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OPINION: Can the Zimmerman, Trayvon Martin case teach the sporting world a lesson?

4:10 PM, Jul 18, 2013   |    comments
George Zimmerman arrives for his murder trial in Semimole circuit court July 10, 2013 in Sanford, Florida. Judge Debra Nelson has ruled that the jury can also consider a manslaughter charge along with the second-degree murder charge in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. (Photo by Gary W. Green-Pool/Getty Images)
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WASHINGTON (WUSA9) -- We can all agree on something when it comes to the outcome of the George Zimmerman/Trayvon Martin incident. Someone died and it's a damn shame. It is gut wrenchingly difficult for Martin's family and many in society at large to grasp that a young man is gone and it never had to happen.

This column isn't about whether I believe in Zimmerman's self defense claim, or whether or not he needed to cease following Martin as the dispatcher instructed him to do that fateful February evening in Florida.

Zimmerman's actions reminded us how destructive stereotyping can be and where it can lead us. What caused him to believe Martin was "a real suspicious guy" in the first place or "one of those f-ing punks," as was heard during his call to police? What caused such an unfavorable conclusion by Zimmerman? Was it Martin's gear? His race? We will never know, however, minorities, in this case, African American's, can't help but surmise Zimmerman was negatively influenced by both.

It led to death. Sad. Many are wondering how something like this could happen. The incident, however, triggered me to think about how prevalent stereotyping can be in our own environments.

The world of sports is and has often been a breeding ground for stereotypes to fester. Stereotyping occurs when we take license to define someone before we truly know them. It happens all the time in the athletic realm.

Since he splashed on the scene in baseball, Yasiel Puig has become a fascinating figure. His power, speed, and flair have injected electricity into a Dodgers team in desperate need of it.

That last part has been a source of consternation for some players who have voiced a dislike to the way he plays, referencing his flip of the bat on a base hit, or his aggressive style. After a recent series, Arizona Diamondbacks catcher Miguel Montero told reporters he hopes Puig's teammates will instruct Puig to show more respect to opponents. "He's got so much talent, it'd be really bad if he wasted it doing the stupid things that he's doing," Montero said.

Another Diamondback, Ian Kennedy described Puig's style of play as "arrogant."

Puig was also criticized in a newspaper report for an exchange with former major leaguer Luis Gonzalez where he was described as aloof, or not showing enough respect for Gonzalez. Puig rebuffed the report calling it "not true."

For the record, Puig's teammates have come to his defense calling the youngster great in the clubhouse.

Unfortunately, perception becomes reality quickly and some of that negativity has already become the primary dialogue when discussing Puig; hardly fair to a 22-year old Cuban defector who doesn't speak English. Do reporters or opponents really even know this guy? Probably not, but some have already made up their minds without ever meeting him. He's young, arrogant and doesn't respect the game.

It seems minorities are often on the receiving end when it comes to negative stereotypes. Geno Smith took a beating for his bad attitude during pre-draft meetings, and it carried over to draft night and beyond. Smith called the reports "inaccurate," his coach Rex Ryan supported him, saying his young quarterback demonstrated none of those qualities during Jets rookie minicamp.

NBA Commissioner David Stern implemented a dress code policy at the beginning of the 2005-2006 season to combat image problems throughout the league. The dress code banned a lot of clothing associated with hip-hop culture and young African-American males.

The ruling rubbed some black players and fans the wrong way. What was the message that was being sent? Does hip-hop style symbolize unprofessionalism, negativity, or even danger? In the case of the NBA, it would appear the commissioner was saying, to a degree, yes.

But don't blame Stern, as difficult as it is to accept, he made a decision based upon a belief held by many. Society has been bombarded by imagery that impacts how we think about certain things before we fully know the story.

That imagery slants our views whether we realize it or not. In my travels I've come across many who come to expect positive stories in northern Virginia, and not-so-positive one's in Prince George's County and the District. Sad.

It's human to feel a connection to something that looks like you. But it takes true compassion to try to find connectivity with something foreign.

I can't help but wonder how different things would have turned out that night had George Zimmerman approached Trayvon Martin with a different mindset. What if he asked Martin, "Hey bro do you need help," or "Are you lost," or "I'm part of the neighborhood watch can I give you a ride somewhere out of this rain." Would things have ended better? One would hope.

But I also can't help but think the incident served as a stark reminder for all of us to check ourselves. Do we stereotype in our reporting? Only individuals themselves know that for sure, but hopefully we're all taking inventory and making changes if necessary.

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